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Family and friends mourn 3-year-old Baltimore girl killed by gunfire

She was buried in a small pink coffin.

But before the casket closed Friday, mourners gathered at the Israel Baptist Church in East Baltimore to say goodbye to 3-year-old McKenzie Elliott, whose hair, as in many of the pictures of her that flashed on the church's large screen, was in braids with little white bows.

The toddler was struck by a stray bullet outside her home in Waverly a week before. Two others were also injured in the shooting. Police sources said Friday that a person of interest turned himself in for questioning in the shooting, though no charges have been filed.

She was laid to rest on the same day as the funeral for Devin Cook, a promising young college student and lacrosse player. They were two of several victims in a recent wave of violence, prompting Baltimore police to increase patrols.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake fought back tears as she spoke at McKenzie's funeral.

"As a mother, just the anger almost overwhelms me that this beautiful family has to be here with this beautiful child we are about to put into the ground," Rawlings-Blake said. "She is in that box because of our community. … We have to do better for our city."

As Rawlings-Blake and other mourners passed the child's casket, some touched or kissed her face one last time. When the flowers were moved out of the way, and the top was closed, the girl's mother began wailing in anguish, shouting "No" as relatives gently guided her out of the church.

The sadness at the Baptist church on the east side was echoed on the west side, where the body of Devin Cook was laid out in a church that shook with laughter and tears.

Outside of Brown's Memorial Baptist Church on West Belvedere Avenue were a string of black cars. Inside the church, every pew was lined with people who came to celebrate Cook, who as a child was called "the preacher."

His lacrosse team at Baltimore County Community College's Catonsville campus sat in a block in the front, wearing their red jerseys over gray and black suits.

The congregation heard from four preachers who tried to find some joy and laughter amid the gloom. Hands swayed back and forth in the air among the amens.

There was much to be joyous about, the speakers said. Cook had already accomplished more than most young men his age.

Just 40 percent of males who graduated from city schools in 2011 went to college. He was one and still was attending three years later. A business major, he worked at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore as well as at a local restaurant. He also volunteered to teach lacrosse to young boys.

Cook had his own car; people said with a laugh that they often heard coming before they saw it. He was driving fellow lacrosse players home the night he was killed. The car was stopped on Wilern Avenue in Park Heights when a gunman fired and killed him and wounded a fellow lacrosse player.

"This is not normal. This is not a normal day," said the Rev. Eric King, pastor of St. Matthews New Life United Methodist Church and Cook's baseball coach when he was young. "Devin called himself a preacher, but as I reflect on him, he was a good Samaritan. Devin's life has not been in vain."

"He was one of those kids, if you have a bad day, he brought you up," said Purnell Summers, a close friend and fellow teammate.

When he made a bad lacrosse move, he said, Cook was there to encourage him.

"He was just a joy, and from a little boy he had just this wonderful spirit," said his grandmother, Linda Johnson, dressed in a white suit and holding Cook's little brother in her arms. A slight man, just a month shy of his 21st birthday, he was one of 22 grandchildren and part of an extended family that got together often for picnics and meals. "It wasn't a person who didn't love Devin. His legacy is going to live on in us."

King told the congregation that if someone had seen anything that would lead to solving the killing, they should come forward. "I hope you become so uncomfortable that you can't stand yourself," he said. "It is not living up to the standards of our ancestors."

Across town, in East Baltimore, similar calls were made for people to come forward and tell police what they saw or knew.

"This is a mean old world we are living in," said the Rev. Harlie Walden Wilson II, quoting a song recorded by Sam Cooke. "Until the community gets involved," he added, "it's not going to end."

As the smiling pictures of McKenzie flashed across the screen, a man wept; several rows in front of him, another toddler, about McKenzie's age, climbed about on the pew.

"I miss that little girl," said Gary Maynor, her great-great-uncle, who, during the service, spoke of snow angels she made in his driveway and how, after building a snowman, she would kiss it.

"That was the smartest little child," he said.

McKenzie's family said in her obituary that she was smart and that she already knew her ABC's and could count to 30. She was excited to go to school.

She also loved swimming and riding her bike outside. Like many little girls, she loved playing with dolls, Dora the Explorer and animals. Her stepfather said previously she'd ride her bike through the neighborhood, where she would introduce herself to neighbors, and ask for candy.

"She was more tech-savvy then most of her family," her obituary read. She would always ask, "Can I hold your phone?" And she would quickly find and download a new game.

During the service, her father, Wayne Elliott Jr. said he hoped police would arrest his "baby's killer."

jkanderson@baltsun.com

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liz.bowie@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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